Rating: 4 out of 5.

If The Crucible and The Witch had a baby, it would probably grow up to be Edoardo Vitaletti’s electric period-piece horror thriller, The Last Thing Mary Saw. It manages to establish the mania and tense atmosphere one imagines when picturing old-time Salem. Everyone would blame their problems on witchcraft, pointing the finger at the innocent for differing from societal norms. Atmospheric, shocking, and character-driven, The Last Thing Mary Saw is an exciting feature debut from an auteur director with a firm grasp on his timely vision.

Set in Southhold, New York in 1893, The Last Thing Mary Saw starts with a young woman blindfolded before a constable, blood dripping down from her eyes. She stands in front of the council to plead her case after a terrible accident paints her as a witch. What follows is Mary’s recollection of events, split neatly into chapters that correspond to a creepy notebook.

Mary (Insidious Chapter 3 actress Stefanie Scott) was deep in the throes of a passionate lesbian affair with her family’s maid, a shy recluse named Eleanor (Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman). Despite her deeply religious and paranoid family’s watchful eye, Mary and Eleanor always find a way to connect behind closed doors, lest they face the wrath of the family’s cruel “corrections.” They must keep their love hidden—but Eleanor is “tired of a life spent hiding.” The arrival of a mysterious, scarred stranger (Rory Culkin) sparks the flames of a dangerous endgame. It does not help that a strange book seems to hint towards the supernatural…

The Last Thing Mary Saw is filled with strange and disturbing imagery. It is a slow-build horror film that really awards the pace through an explosive payoff. It is not afraid to dwell in some very dark places—this is not a feel-good movie. The fear and atmosphere is tangible, reflective of modern-day attitudes in some facets of ignorance to otherness. Both Mary and Eleanor are made to feel that their actions warrant drastic measures, and the family deflects responsibility by assuming they are doing the work of God.

The actors get juicy monologues to deliver, and the dialogue-free segments are equally as enthralling. Isabelle Fuhrman is having a banner year, between this and her 2021 Tribeca Film Festival Award-winning performance in The Novice; the long-awaited Orphan: First Kill is right around the corner! The sky is the limit for this amazing actress, who has been knocking it out of the park since her feature debut at the age of ten. Eleanor is yet another complex character for her filmography.

Fuhrman’s scenes with screen partner Stefanie Scott sizzle with chemistry. When Eleanor makes a deal with a man to let them hide in the coop at night in exchange for fresh bread to feed him, one can get a feel for Eleanor’s pure intentions. Her bond with Mary is, at its core, the lifeblood of The Last Thing Mary Saw. The horror element shines brightly, and when we finally do indeed arrive at “the last thing Mary saw,” the revelations are well worth the wait.

The Last Thing Mary Saw screened at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, and has been picked up by Shudder for release in early 2022. The Last Thing Mary Saw will have its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2021 on August 28th.

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